Monday, October 15, 2012

Memoirs of an Air League Scholar

On a New Year’s resolution style whim I applied for a scholarship from the Air League which offered 12 hours flying towards gaining your Private Pilots Licence (PPL).  Shortly after applying I got invited to an interview at Tayside aviation. I was petrified for technical questions or some mental maths but all they were testing me on was my interest in flying.  I was interviewed by Kate Watt who is the Scholarship manager at Tayside and Michael Todhunter from The Swire Charitable Trust who would be my sponsor. Although I was 15 minutes early my interview, it finished before it was even meant to start. I left feeling confident as the only note Mr Todhunter made was “v. good.”

A few days later while I was passing Dundee on the train  I got a phone call from Tayside Aviation telling me I had won the scholarship! I couldn’t believe it and I spent the rest of the train trip smiling like an idiot.

Three months later at 8:30am on the 21st of August I was starting my training. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what to wear or what to bring except for sunglasses. I was training alongside Air Cadets who had travelled from all over the country to carry out their Air Cadet Pilot Scheme training. It turned out even though they were 3 years younger than me, they all had gliding scholarships under their belts.  The other Air League scholar was a girl who had already done the ACPS course and was also studying Aeronautical engineering.  Even the introductory lecture made me feel like the dunce of the class.

The next day I got to meet my instructor and get into a plane for the first time since a Groupon trial flying lesson. I was both petrified and excited.  I can’t say I got on amazingly well with my instructor as I don’t think he was quite aware that I was not as clued up as everybody else. However his cruel-to-be-kind tactics got me studying harder which in retrospect was very useful.

On my first day in the sky I had to get taught all the basics of flying and there wasn’t really time to run over things twice. The amount of work I had to do in the first three days of my scholarship was more than I felt like I had done the whole summer including climbing Kilimanjaro and working at Wimbledon. Even though it was hard work and I dreaded what my instructor was going to tut at next, when I was up in the air I enjoyed every minute! Remember that buzz you had during driving lessons when your instructor stopped clinging onto the edge of the chair? Well try that buzz 3000ft in the sky.

In the first few lessons we flew out of Dundee airpace to practice climbing, descending and stalling out of harms way.  Once we had ticked the boxes on the basics we spent time learning the circuit around the airport for landing and take-off. The cadets and myself were aiming to go solo within 12 hours of flying which involved doing one of this circuits without the help of an instructor. I wasn’t thinking hopefully as I just couldn’t catch up as quickly, I would rather get hold of the basics properly than rush them just to go solo. After seven days  I had clocked up my 12 hours and I had learnt more in the past few days than I had in two years of a degree, as well as realising a childhood dream.

Pretty much anyone is eligible to apply to a scholarship as long as they show enough enthusiasm and can afford the annual members fee(about £30 for students). The current price for getting your PPL is currently around £6000-£7000 and if that scares you don’t even think about the price of the full commercial licence. Other than entering through the RAF, becoming a pilot is a posh boys game and those with access to Mummy and Daddy funds. However scholarships are becoming more readily available and the RAF Air Cadet scheme is also a great way to get a foot in the door.

If anyone wants tips or advice on applying for a scholarship then please leave a comment and I will get back to you!

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